When the 2016 elections come around, people could be casting their votes on machines with technology developed before Google or the iPod, or even before anyone knew what a "hanging chad" was. This comes from a new study by New York University's Brennan Center for Justice that states 43 states are using out-of-date polling equipment, some at least 10 years old and others more than 15 years old.
As we watch debates and consider candidates, there is the fear by government and voters alike that equipment will fail or crash, lines getting longer to go and vote, plus the potential for human error or security breaches on older voting equipment.
Punched-card voting booth from Palm Beach County, Florida. This booth was used in the 2000 presidential election. (Photo Credit: gorecentermtsu.wordpress.com)
After the 2000 election, Americans were ready to walk away from the days of voting by punch cards. The seemingly archaic method of tallying votes was too open to manipulation and human error. However, the benefits of convenience and speed that come with newer electronic voting machines often clash with public distrust of what is going on behind the screen. This has resulted in many voting stations also providing physical voting ballots that are counted separately.
According to the NYU study, election officials in Virginia had to decertify votes in 24 percent of the state’s precincts following the finding that hackers could possibly access the equipment and “record voting data or inject malicious data.”
Much of the country still requires better working voting technology but few can afford the upgrade. As the skills of individuals looking to skew election results become more sophisticated, local governments face a real challenge in staying ahead of the problem.
“Unlike voting machines used in past eras, today’s systems were not designed to last for decades,” authors of the study wrote. “No one expects a laptop to last for 10 years. And although today’s machines debuted at the beginning of this century, many were designed and engineered in the 1990s.”
In these 12 states, all voting machines are at least 10 years old: Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Utah.
The biggest barrier government officials face with voting technology is the cost. According to a NPR, Congress budgeted states $2 billion for new voting machines after the 2000 election and is not expected to allow that amount of funding again. The marketplace for new voting technology is small and expensive.
Photo Credit: Reuters
In response to high cost for limited upgrades, some local governments are working to fund development of new machines. While critics suggest this will create further distance in technology between precincts, officials in areas such as Travis County, Texas are aiming for more open source and transparent systems with software that can be shared with other jurisdictions.
Adoption of these new and more open voting methods could solve the problem in the future, but implementation of new technology is slow, especially in government. The immediate problem may not be solved in time for the upcoming race to the White House and the next president could be elected on outdated technology.